Child-sex case nets polygamist 45 days in jail

Fischer: An FLDS member, convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old, gets 45 days in jail and 3 years of probation

Salt Lake Tribune/August 3, 2006
By Brooke Adams

Kingman, Ariz. -- A Colorado City man convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl he took as a plural wife defended his family and character Wednesday before an Arizona judge, who sentenced him to 45 days in jail.

Kelly Fischer, 39, must begin serving his sentence for two class 6 felony convictions - sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor - no later than Nov. 6.

"In my family, there is no one pressured into anything they did not want to do," Fischer told Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven F. Conn. "In my family, every single person is happy. There is no one in pain; there is no one having to pick up the pieces."

Fischer is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect.

Conn had the option of sentencing Fischer from four months to two years in prison or placing him on probation. The judge said he struggled with the sentence, realizing Fischer was not a typical sexual predator and that his plural wife does not consider herself a victim. The judge noted that the relationship, approved by her parents, would have been legal if Fischer had not already been married and they had legally wed.

Fischer also was placed on supervised probation for three years and must register in Arizona as a sex offender. If he serves his probation successfully, he can ask the court to reduce the crimes on his record to misdemeanors.

Conn received more than 130 letters in support of Fischer from family, friends and business associates.

"The people who wrote letters saying it was clear he was found guilty of something he didn't do simply don't understand what this case was about," Conn said.

And it wasn't about polygamy, he said.

"My attitude and perception has been that polygamy in Colorado City is something that is perfectly acceptable to the governmental agencies in this area and the only reason these cases have become involved in the criminal justice system are the assertions and allegations that some of the multiple or plural wives were underage when they had sex," the judge said.

Conn also said the case was not aimed at trying to "re-educate or brainwash these people and the church in Colorado City to get rid of their religious beliefs and give up the practice of polygamy.

"What this case is about is to discourage people in that community or any other community from having sex with girls that are underage," said the judge, adding he was aware of the deterrent effect a sentence could have.

Conn said he believed Fischer was acting out of a "sincere religious belief," but added he considered it "abominable" and "very hard to accept [that] someone can subscribe to a religion that allows them to have multiple wives at the same time."

In a letter to the judge, Fischer said he has "a beautiful family" and that he would be "grateful if you would allow me my freedom to continue to provide for the needs of my beautiful family and those who rely on the part I play in their employment."

He also criticized the case brought against him and asked the judge to "right a wrong."

Fischer, a construction contractor, was 34 when he was assigned his stepdaughter as a plural wife nearly six years ago by FLDS leader Warren S. Jeffs. The couple now have three children.

The sect, based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., broke away from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which abandoned polygamy in 1890 as a condition of statehood.

The woman did not testify or attend the sentencing. She wrote to Conn on July 23 asking that the charges be dropped or no jail sentence be imposed.

"It is hard for me to imagine that Kelly is really convicted when I, the alleged 'victim,' am as happy as ever," the woman wrote. "I have no complaints against him. I never have."

She also wrote: "I am very happy in my life. I am at the bloom of my life, I am young and talented. I love my husband more than anyone else. I love my children; they are dearer to me than my very life."

The Salt Lake Tribune is not naming the woman because it generally does not identify sex crime victims.

Fischer's other wives also sent letters in his defense, as did some of his children.

"Would you be kind enough to not let my father go to jail?" asked one boy. "I need him."

Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said he would have preferred a sentence of six months to nine months in jail but acknowledged that the lack of a victim or prior record and Fischer's "very good character references" countered such an order.

"He is going to have jail time for it, and I'm sure that is not something he is looking forward to and he's going to have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, so those are some pretty negative consequences," said Smith, who added that a stiffer sentence might not have had much impact.

"I don't know if it matters to [FLDS members] anyway," Smith said. "They pretty much do what Warren Jeffs tells them to do."

Many letters written to the judge by Fischer's family and friends included a tone of "arrogance," he told Conn, implying "the laws of the land don't apply, just the laws of the FLDS and the laws of the prophet."

"If this court doesn't do something stern, doesn't send a message up there, there is no reason to think this conduct is not going to continue," Smith said in court.

Flora Jessop, an anti-polygamy activist who is a former FLDS member, had asked the judge for a significant sentence. "As a victim of child sexual abuse, please do the right thing by these victims," she said.

After the sentencing, she left the courtroom angrily. Outside, Jessop said "victims lose again" and swore at Fischer as he left, shouting that it wasn't over yet.

Mohave County investigator Gary Engels said the judge "did what he thought was right. Hopefully, this sends the right message that this sort of activity is not going to be tolerated."

Attorney Bruce Griffen, who represented Fischer, had sought probation or a jail sentence with work release privileges. He argued the court could not not find a better family man or more exemplary citizen than Fischer.

Fischer spoke for about 30 minutes before his sentence was imposed. He did not apologize or express remorse, instead sharing his family background and moral principles he tries to follow. Losing his mother at a young age, then living with a strict father before his adoption into a warm family has made him a loving father, he said.

On July 7, a Mohave County jury found Fischer guilty on the two charges. Smith had relied on testimony from former members of the polygamous sect about how marriages occur and the 2001 birth certificate of the woman's first child to show a crime had occurred.

A Mohave County grand jury had indicted Fischer and seven other members of the sect on the sex crime charges a year ago. Fischer was the first to stand trial.

The other men are: Dale Evans Barlow, 48; Rodney H. Holm, 39; Donald R. Barlow, 49; Vergel Bryce Jessop, 46; Terry Darger Barlow, 24; Randolph J. Barlow, 33; and David Romaine Bateman, 49.

Donald R. Barlow is up next, with his trial currently set for Aug. 15.

Jeffs is wanted on the same Arizona charges, as well as a Utah count of rape-as-an accomplice, for his alleged role in performing underage marriages. Jeffs has not been seen publicly in nearly two years and in May the FBI placed him on its "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list.

In the past three years, the FLDS have fanned out across the country and are known to have outposts in Nevada, Colorado, South Dakota and Texas. They also have long had a community in British Columbia.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.